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Hal BidlackHal BidlackMarch 30, 20186min331

We may be in the throes of a constitutional crisis. Not in Washington (well, maybe a little, stay tuned) but here in Colorado. This week, a federal judge blocked parts of the measure, approved by voters in 2016, that made it harder to amend our lovely state’s constitution. Specifically, the Judge ruled that provision that required at least 2% of the signatures gathered to put a proposed new constitutional amendment on the ballot be collected in each of the 35 state senate districts. This was a direct effort to undo the ability of a ballot-measure supporter to gather all needed signatures along the Front Range, where lots of people live, while ignoring those who live in the less well-populated regions of Colorado.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirMarch 2, 20183min2046

Out in Colorado’s vast rural reaches, finding a replacement for an experienced and knowledgeable county clerk ain’t easy. Unlike in the state’s metro areas, where there always seems to be a steady supply of upward-bound office seekers, there just aren’t that many people to begin with in farm and ranch communities in sparsely populated counties in the high country and the eastern plains.

Which helps explain why voters in a number of those counties have invoked their right to opt out of the state’s constitutional term limits. The law, which generally holds elected officials to two terms or eight years consecutively in office, makes it tough for some counties to fill key posts. So, they’ve let some officeholders stay on the job longer.

In some cases, a lot longer — as Colorado Secretary of State’s Office communications chief Lynn Bartels pointed out in a blog post earlier this week. Bartels notes how Crowley County Clerk Lucile Nichols, for example, began working in the Clerk & Recorder’s office as a staffer in 1972 and was first elected clerk in 1994. Bent County Clerk Patti Nickell has been in office for 32 years.

Colorado Counties Inc. keeps a rolling list of counties that have waived or extended term limits for clerks and other elected officials over the years. Crowley lifted limits for all elected officials in 1998; Bent did so for its assessor, clerk and recorder, coroner, sheriff and treasurer in 1999.

Now, some of the longest-serving clerks are exercising term limits of their own: They’re retiring. Writes Bartels:

“…(W)hat makes 2018 unusual is the number of longtime clerks who are saying goodbye to registering vehicles, running elections, recording documents and many, many, more duties.

Others who are retiring after this year include Otero County Clerk Sharon Sisnroy, who will also have spent 43 years in the office, and Washington County Clerk Garland Wahl, who was first elected to the post in 1982.

It amounts to quite a brain drain. Bartels quotes Secretary of State Wayne Williams: “We are losing decades of experience.”


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirNovember 7, 20173min547

Remember Natalie Meyer? Who could forget Colorado’s longest-serving secretary of state? The Republican was elected to the first of her three terms in 1982 — it was before term limits — and served through 1994. In her time in office she was widely respected across the partisan divide for keeping a steady hand on the tiller through thick and thin, smoothly navigating one election after another. Some say she even set a new standard for subsequent secretaries of state to meet.

And even though the job usually isn’t attended by a lot of publicity or a very high profile, the secretary of state sure earns his/her keep. It isn’t easy being the chief elections official for the entire state alongside a range of other responsibilities, from bingo oversight to business registration. Just ask the office’s current occupant, Wayne Williams.

Which gives Williams all the more appreciation for Meyer’s 12-year tenure at the helm. So much so, he presented Meyer this week with an NASS Medallion Award from the National Association of Secretaries of State (or NASS), recognizing her long-standing contributions to Colorado’s democratic process.

Williams and staff decided to have a little fun with the award presentation. From a press release issued by Williams’s office:

The award came as a surprise to Meyer, who had been invited to Denver Elections on the guise of welcoming municipal clerks who were there for training.

According to NASS’s website, the honor allows secretaries of state like Williams “to recognize outstanding service and dedication to furthering the mission of the National Association of Secretaries of State.” The mission includes a focus on, “elections, with special emphasis on voter education and participation.”

Though her time in office ended with the 1994 election, when she decided against seeking another term, Williams noted at the award presentation Monday, “…she didn’t retire … For the next two decades she kept coming in and working as an elections judge in Denver. She has an unrelenting commitment to election integrity.”

The Secretary of State’s Office press announcement also took note of Meyer’s lifetime in politics:

Before becoming secretary of state, Meyer held a held a number of political posts, including serving as campaign manager for former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong’s 1976 successful re-election bid. Prior to that, Meyer taught typing, bookkeeping, shorthand, history and English at Bear Valley and Wheat Ridge high schools until her first daughter was born.

Donetta Davidson — another former secretary of state who had served previously under Meyer as elections director — also attended the presentation.


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Wayne WilliamsWayne WilliamsOctober 26, 20175min698

Every vote matters. I learned that when I was still a teenager.  The mayoral candidate I volunteered for, my friend Bob, lost by 12 votes. A dozen. That hurt. As the El Paso County clerk and recorder I oversaw two school board races that were decided by a single vote. This was after all the provisional ballots had been counted and the recount was finished. A lone vote could have made all the difference. Recent recall elections and other challenges in several counties illustrate how important school board races are to our lives.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 11, 20172min402

Noteworthy on Lynn Bartels’s blog last week: a piece by her fellow Secretary of State’s Office staffer, Julia Sunny, on a visit from an Alaskan delegation studying Colorado’s success with mail ballots. Alaska is considering a move to all-mail balloting, Sunny reports.

Included was this nugget:

Colorado is one of the top five states in the country for voter turnout, due in part to its mail-ballot system for elections.

…And this:

Secretary (of State Wayne) Williams, Colorado elections director Judd Choate, and county support manager Dwight Shellman, sat down with the Alaskan officials to discuss Colorado elections’ processes and what Colorado does to maintain the integrity of elections.

Shellman explained the innovative risk-limiting audits system Colorado will utilize in the next election. Colorado is the first state to implement statewide RLAs to elections, a new and better type of post-election audit.

Taken together, they could provide reassurance in the face of periodic concerns over voter participation as well as ballot security in the Centennial State. The misgivings come from across the political spectrum — typically around election time, of course — and range from worries that voter registration procedures could disfranchise some segments of the community, to concerns that mail ballots could compromise election integrity.

Sunny’s report reminds us Colorado’s election system is viewed as a template for other states. We must be doing something right.

 


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 5, 20172min436

…But you’ll have to show up at a Denver League of Women Voters “Drinks and Dialogue” get-together Sept. 18 at Bogeys on the Park, in Denver’s City Park West ‘hood, to learn what Williams has to say about it all. (A good guess: He will assure those who attend that there’s no voter suppression in Colorado; certainly, not on his watch.)

You even can bend the elbow with the affable elections czar during the meeting’s scheduled “social gathering,” from 5:30 p.m. to 5:50 p.m., before Williams starts to talk and take questions. Just don’t expect the teetotaling Republican to hoist a tankard of anything stronger than lemonade.

Here’s more, from a League press release:

…Williams was elected Colorado’s 38th Secretary of State in 2014 after serving as the El Paso County Clerk & Recorder from 2011 to 2015.  We hope to socialize and learn about this important topic.

Q:  Why is the League of Women Voters interested in whether voter suppression is fact or fiction?

A:  The League of Women Voters has a long history of protecting voting rights.  Protecting the right to vote is indivisibly part of the League’s basic purpose and voting is a fundamental citizen right that must be guaranteed.

Q:  Why do we want to have a public dialogue with Secretary of State Wayne Williams?

A:  One of the duties of The Secretary of State is to ensure the integrity of elections. Integrity of our elections is a “hot topic” that needs to be addressed.

Bogey’s on the Park is at 2500 York Street in Denver 80205.


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Dan NjegomirDan NjegomirSeptember 1, 20173min353

…And its staff is coming to a gathering near you, sometime soon, to teach you more about voting and election issues.

Speaking of which, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams sure gets around, doesn’t he? As chronicled on SOS communications czarina Lynn Bartels’s blog, Williams always seems to be bringing good news about the state’s elections system and related topics to audiences around the state. (Heck, the guy stumps as if he were a politician. Which, of course, he is — though as far as we know, he is one of the few Republican officeholders in Colorado these days who isn’t rumored to be running for another political office.)

In a post this week on Bartels’s blog,  Lizzie Stephani reports on an appearance by Williams and crew at a gathering of Jefferson County Republicans. One takeaway:

Event-goers at the Jeffco event peppered Williams with questions about Proposition 107, which creates a presidential primary and allows unaffiliated voters to participate, and Proposition 108, which allows unaffiliated voters to cast either or a Democratic or Republican ballot but without affiliating with either party.

Williams asked the legislature to pick up the cost of the presidential primary — the next one is in four years — but he said counties must bear the additional costs of sending ballots to unaffiliated voters in the June 2018 primary.

Williams also addressed the provision in Prop 108 that allows the state Democratic or Republican parties to cancel the primary if 75 percent of the party’s state central committee votes to do so, which would prevent unaffiliated voters from helping select the nominee for the general election. The nominees would be selected during the caucus process.

The secretary pointed out the outcry last year when the Colorado Republican Party canceled a nonbinding presidential preference poll.

Both 107 and 108 pose a lot of unknowns, notably: How many unaffiliated voters actually will take advantage of their newfound clout? The answer awaits us next spring. One thing’s for sure: Williams will be in the thick of it all when we find out.